Now, those of you who know Eva IRL will know that owls are something of a theme for her. I think it started with an owl dress and spiralled into t-shirts, decor and snack boxes. So, sooner or later we had to visit the Owls Play Centre in Fairlop Waters. That sooner became a soggy Good Friday, when I ignored my plug for Easter Bounce and set up off with Nathan and the kids for the dryness and serenity of Fairlop.
Only it wasn’t that serene. And bits of it weren’t dry, but there was a man on hand to deal with it, disinfectant in hand. I don’t know why I expected it to be quiet – I think that maybe friends have visited during the school day and described it as such. Clearly, the first day of the Easter holidays wasn’t going to be like that. So, we had to wait a few minutes to get in and were told to strictly observe the 2-hour limit. Not a problem, as we’d already imposed a 2-hour limit on ourselves by choosing the £1.30 option of parking (up to 2 hrs) rather than the £3 all-day option. That was on the basis that if we needed another 2 hours, it’d still be cheaper than paying £3. But unless you flawlessly co-ordinate the parking times and session times, you’re going to lose out somehow. If you do attempt the flawless manoevure, session times start at the hour and half past. Good luck to you.
I was quite surprised we had to pay for parking at all, as we were kinda in the countryside. It was certainly a long way past the North Circular and the wide roads had a distinctively Essex feel to them. Yet, we were right by a tube station (Fairlop on the Central Line) and London buses were driving past. It seems we were just in a particularly bulky part of Zone 4, despite the play centre being in the middle of a Country Park. All very confusing.
Anyway, we got in and it was packed. An array of brightly coloured tables sat in front of the playframe and not a single one was free. We compiled our belongings in a big pile in a corner and looked around in vain for the kids we’d come in with. They’d long gone, exploring the climbing frames and slides. There was a section that was perfectly sized for Eva – the 2-5s zone – so, naturally, she’d ignored it and was scrambling to the top of the main frame before losing her nerve and crying for Mummy. Once again, I wished for an emergency softplay exit. And some dignity.
It was while I was rescuing Eva that two things happened. First, that I had a text from Nathan saying he’d found a table but our stuff was still piled in a corner. Secondly that I ran into Reuben, who needed the toilet. Again, my kingdom for a short cut. It was complicated but we managed to get girl out, boy to toilet, stuff moved and table retained with nothing more than a Spiderman mask to save it. Once we were settled on a table, I could start to relax…at least until Eva got herself stuck again, which wasn’t long. Still, I had The Boy buying me coffee and all would be well. I’m not sure how Owls could do things differently as far as tables go – there’s no space to put any more in and it’s natural that every parent there will want to a) sit down and b) drink coffee. But they could really do with some kind of place to put kids’ shoes. Maybe there was one and I never found it, but the number of shoes scattered about the place suggested not. There was also a bit of a wait for coffee as there was only one person serving but when it came, it was much appreciated.
It’s just that one or two tweaks (more staff, somewhere to stash stuff, a more co-ordinated parking system) would elevate it to an awesome soft play. The kids definitely enjoyed it:
Although Reuben found himself playing in the baby area, building a wall of tessalating bricks and then complaining when the babies had the nerve to knock it down:
Eva was also delighted by the appearance of her BFF Bunny, which brightens up any of her days. Bunny came in the session after ours but made up for lost time by disappearing with Eva straight away, giggling to themselves and shedding decorative bits of their clothes. If anyone found a button at Owls on Friday, do let me know and I’ll pass it on to the BunnyParents.
I can’t say it was an overly relaxing experience but that’s our damnfoolfault for going on a rainy bank holiday. The coffee and cake were good and I’d imagine on a weekday, when it was stripped of the bigger kids it would be very pleasant indeed. I wish we’d had time to explore Fairlop Waters itself but the parking didn’t really allow for that, unless we’d paid for all day….and I’m not sure how much exploring there is to do. Maybe we’ll take the tube next time and play and wander at our leisure. While Roo’s at school, obviously.